The Best Film Ever Made by Pauline Kael
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
For such a short book, this was a real towering achievement. Written when Orson Welles was still alive (!), this book talks about how Welles was probably the biggest loser in the history of Hollywood after directing and starring in what is still arguably (and this book was written in 1971) considered the greatest movie of all time, and not getting famous off of it. His is truly a tragic story that actually sort of mimics that of the character he portrayed in the movie, which, I found out because of this book, wasn't totally a coincidence.
What's interesting about this title and what separates it from other film criticism is that the author actually points out many of the problems with the film. Now, this wouldn't be all that strange if it were any other movie, but to say anything but utter praise for Citizen Kane has always seemed like heresy. But Ms. Kael did it, and proves that despite all of its flaws, it's still quite the masterpiece, and she gives her own personal reasons for why that's so. It's really quite refreshing.
It's also a fantastic history lesson. I never even heard of Herman J. Mankiewicz before reading this book and always just assumed that Orson Welles wrote the movie since his imprint is everywhere else on the film. But I learned just what a character the screenwriter was, and how instrumental he was to the creation of the movie, which was originally simply titled, American. In fact, Mankiewicz is more prominent in this book than Welles himself, which makes for a somewhat distanced reading of it until you realize just how important a role he actually played. It really is quite something. I learned a great deal about Hearst as well, who, as everybody knows, was the inspiration for Charles Foster Kane in the first place.
In summary, this is just a great book. The author had a very strong voice and opinion, and it made for a fun, complex read. I loved it.
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